The Cloud can be a blessing to a small company.
Just ten years ago, the most viable options available to smaller organizations were lesser-quality systems that needed to be shared via a local server and maintained by an IT person. Because they could not afford an effective on-site system, most of these firms would just keep everything on Excel and share documents on an internal server. It was a very frustrating and now outdated way to work.
Our journey as a firm was similar to that of many other small companies. The following is a short account of the problems we faced in each of our departments with the corresponding solutions we used to solve them with the help of Cloud software.
Although we had started experimenting with a local, server-based accounting system, the system had not worked for us because it was too limited and archaic. The software was handling nothing. Then, Cloud software became inexpensive enough that moving our information online became feasible. At that point, our priority was accounting because we did not have an adequate system to record all our transactions.
We needed a system that could do the basics:
Issue invoices to our customers and record collections;
Record bills to be paid and apply payments;
Reconcile our bank accounts;
Create financial statements.
I found options that cost tens of thousands of dollars each year, but we did not have a large budget. At the time, the option that made the most sense for us was Zoho Books. Implementing the system took some time, and we continuously sought to improve our accounting process. Although the system is basic, it can be the perfect solution for a small firm. Zoho Books enhanced the accuracy of our recordkeeping.
My next priority was the sales team. We needed a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution to record all our interactions with our customers. Because we needed an inexpensive yet comprehensive system that could integrate with Zoho Books, I selected its sister program, Zoho CRM.
Before implementing Zoho CRM, we maintained all of our information on Excel spreadsheets which had to be continuously sorted. We had a particularly infamous spreadsheet named “Contacts,” where we maintained all the contact information for any lead with additional columns for status and comments. We would sort it to see whom we needed to call and who had closed. The changes were not always recorded or up-to-date, and sometimes, we would lose a sale. It was a nightmare.
With the system, our process for sales improved immensely. To give you an idea of the difference, here are some of the things we were able to do:
Search for a client and see all sales transactions;
Manage the progress of the deals we are working on;
Pull reports on the data we have accumulated;
Have a record of all the sales and returns we have processed.
The next major system we implemented was project management software. We needed a system that would maintain processes for the firm and would allow us to work collaboratively on tasks and to-dos. Up until that moment, processes were handled informally; each person simply knew or was trained in what had to be done. Nothing was organized or properly structured.
Tasks were kept in each person’s notebook or planner. In my case, I would meet every few days (status meeting) with each person to find out about progress on specific items. I was spending each morning following up with the team and would often find that there had been miscommunications within the team about the item itself or the time frame. If for some reason the task was not written down in my planner or the other person’s planner, it could easily disappear and fall off the radar — never to be seen again.
I selected Wrike as a project management tool and firm-wide organizational system. The use of Wrike has been the most impactful software implementation that we have had thus far. Our productivity as a team has increased greatly as a result of transparency and accountability. Some of the benefits we have received are:
The ability to set up recurrent processes that allow us to ensure the routine business of the firm is being performed;
Collaborate as a team on tasks, including sharing documents and pictures;
Never losing track of to-dos.
For more on Wrike, read my blog post 6 Reasons Why You Will Love Wrike Like We Do.
File Sharing and Storage
The final improvement involved our file storage system. To collaborate with one another, we used a basic local server. Our server had no security features and had to be constantly maintained by our IT person to monitor storage capabilities. Furthermore, there was no way to collaborate on documents; sometimes we would end up with various versions of the same document, and we would spend hours simply figuring out which was the right one. It was a mess, and we needed a change.
At this point, Box and Dropbox had emerged as viable alternatives. We implemented Box because at that time it was more oriented to businesses. It was especially useful because we had two other offices located in different areas of the city that needed access to the same documents. Instead of having to email documents that were then edited and sent back, each person could now collaborate on the same document without duplicating efforts.
Box also allowed us to save different versions of documents. In case there is a mistake, you can easily go back, see the reason for the change, and restore previous versions. There are many more advantages, but the biggest one in my mind was getting rid of the outdated local server.
Given the necessity of passwords for all the services we now use, we also implemented the use of a password manager for everyone in our office. We have recently moved to LastPass, which allows you to generate unique passwords for each site you use. All you need is one password to log into LastPass, and it will remember all your other passwords for other online portals.
I highly recommend a password manager software to save time spent trying to remember passwords and resetting forgotten ones. This app also eliminates the need to write them all down, which could also easily contribute to security issues.
Reward Your Business by Implementing Cloud Programs
These are just some basic examples of what you can do with Cloud storage in each of your departments. Our solution was not perfectly integrated, but even with a system with flaws, each of these individual Cloud programs vastly improved our accuracy and produced positive results. We hope to continue integrating our information and business processes.
Depending on your company, the Cloud offers many options that can make your work in each department more efficient. Whatever your company’s challenges are, there are solutions for it. Select and implement wisely, and your firm will be amply rewarded.